By Ryan McGreal
Published June 01, 2012
Former Mayor Larry Di Ianni, currently the host of The O-Show on Cable 14, delivered an "O-Ration" on May 29 on the current hot issue of two-way street conversion. Following is the text of Di Ianni's oration, reproduced here with his permission:
A debate is raging in blogs, on Facebook and among some at city hall about what to do with the network of one-way streets that still dominate major road arteries in the city. The two best known are King - taking eastern traffic westbound - and Main - going the other way. Cannon is another. In fact in the late 50's my family lived on that street. It was two-way for a short time and then I remember it became one way with Wilson Street going the other way.
A few years ago, around the time I was in the Mayor's chair, we began some trial conversions back to two-way for some of our downtown thoroughfares - John and James (South, the northern portion had already been converted under Mayor Wade's term) in particular. I recall how nervous some were about the conversion. But we managed to pull it off. No one can say that James North isn't a better street now than it was ten years ago. Was it all due to the conversion? I rather think not, but it was probably a major factor.
With this success, why, then is there reluctance to convert all streets that are currently one-way to two-way? Well, it probably has something to do with the engineers' recommendations around the flow of traffic. Streets are meant to be walked near as people navigate to homes and businesses, but are also meant for cars to travel from one destination to another. Main Street is a perfect example that people talk about. If one is going from McMaster to Eastgate Square or beyond, and you time it just right, the traffic flows perfectly without being stopped by a single red light. Commuters like that, I suspect.
And yet the business case for two-way is there: storefront visibility, consumer comfort, traffic calming, easier walkability, it brings people to neighbourhoods rather than simply facilitating drive fast vehicles - and there's the rub. Do we want walkable parts of every city, especially in the core, or do we want to cater to those who are leaving to areas beyond the beyond, in the suburban neighbourhoods, which is home to many of us?
In a postscript sent to RTH, Di Ianni explains:
This O-Ration is part of the O-Show seen on Cable 14 every Tuesday evening. It is meant to stimulate discussion between the two panelists: Laura Babcock and Loren Lieberman. I have been asked to write an article expanding on my thoughts about two-way traffic conversions for the next issue of Hamilton Magazine.
Back in 2001 and 2002 as a city councillor, Di Ianni raised concerns about the cost of the planned two-way conversion of James and John North. A Hamilton Spectator column on March 6, 2002 by Andrew Dreschel notes:
Di Ianni admits he doesn't know enough about the technical merits of the project to reach a conclusion about whether it's worthwhile or not. But he's alarmed by the cost and he thinks it wouldn't hurt to take another look at it. "I want to give it some fair, sober second thought."
Once the staff report on the conversion cost was released, it became clear that the significant cost was related to major improvements to the underground road infrastructure, and Council accepted the plan.
As Mayor, he supported the City's 'go-slow' approach to two-way conversions as a prudent response to the prevailing fears about what would happen.
In a 2005 interview with RTH, Di Ianni said, "I think we're heading in the right direction. Some people say we should go faster, some people say we should go slower, so we're probably just about right in terms of - I think we're headed in the right direction."